The really special seat

This is a really, really special seat.

Super Hitachi and Great Western Railway have worked really hard to cater for all people and the agoraphobics will delighted with this wonderful seat. For a deliocious first class fare in excess of £200 (£359 if you want flexibility and a Travelcard), you too can enjoy none of the scenery of the Great Western Railway.

As you leave Bristol Temple Meads, you won’t get a glimpse of Brunel’s wonderful train shed, nor, if you crane your neck will you get a glimpse of the Clifton Suspension Bridge or the wonder of a hot air balloon drifting across the city.

You will be oblivious to the River Avon meandering to your left or the mist over the water meadows around Saltford. The dreamy spires of Bath Spa will be shielded from you and a wall of plastic will separate you from the Vale of the White Horse.

There will be the good fortune, however, of not glimpsing Swindon.

Didcot’s brutal industrial beauty won’t be seen, neither will the splendid sight of a copper-topped engine steaming gently in the railway centre. You will be oblivious to the River Thames and the early activity morning of it’s inhabitants. Later, you will also miss the opportunity to spy Brunel’s bridge over the river at Maidenhead (or to flick the bird at our strong and stable leader).

On the approaches to London you can only imagine the aeroplanes around Heathrow and the excitement of a glimpse of the Wembley Arch is something you’ll forego.

The tube joins us at Acton, not that you’d know and the bustling railway yards are for the enjoyment of everyone else on the train, but not you.

Finally, the nice guard announces it’s time for you to gather up your belongings and dive in the depths of the big smoke. You awake from your comfort blanket of plastic, reassured that you have avoided the world in it’s entirety for the last hundred minutes. Only the huge dent to your bank balance will remind you of this.

Please enjoy your journey.

Ps padding on your seat is extra.

It starts with ‘W’….

So, it’s a dark cold Friday evening and I am onboard the 1930 departure to Weston-super-Mare.

The preceding service has been cancelled and my train is two coaches shorter than it should have been, plus it’s a Friday, so this one is going to be pretty full. And it is, unpleasantly so. Inevitably there is a strong whiff of hot food and someone, obviously, is eating a stinking pasty in my vicinity. Someone else is playing a game on their phone with the volume on full (if ever there was a crime worthy of the death penalty, then it is this) and then there another watching something hilarious on their laptop which immediately rules out Mrs Brown’s Boys.

It’s crowded, smelly and uncomfortable. The only upside is, as far as I can see, that the crisp munching Darth Vader that sat opposite me this morning is absent.

The man next to me (TMNTM) is one of those special treats that decides to flop into his seat with his backpack still on, then fidget uncontrollably with the frankly impossible task of trying to get comfortable. This clearly isn’t going to happen ever on a Great Western train as, for them, they mistook the word ergonomic for economic thus deciding that padding on seats was an unnecessary expense. The only opportunity they have so far missed has been the creation of First Group Chiropractors who would, without doubt, do a roaring trade at every major station.

As ever, I digress.

So, TMNTM, unable to sit properly, adopts a seated position like a praying mantis and decides to eat his dinner, which is buried deep in one of several large carrier bags at his feet. I’m convinced he must be getting off at Reading but no, worse is to come; he pulls not one but two mobile phones from his pocket; setting one up to watch a film and the other, oh gawd, is for FaceTiming his (I assume) girlfriend. This is awkward as she appears to be in bed and I feel like I’m intruding in the early stages of foreplay for their weekend ahead.

Now FaceTime will get a deserved rant of its own at some point but who on earth thinks that absolutely anyone would want to be privy to a couple’s pre-rutting positioning? Why does anyone think it’s acceptable to share such intimate conversation with half a dozen enforced neighbours?  And what did his girlfriend think of the sound emanating from the man playing a game on his phone?

In between the several FaceTime calls, he switches to his other phone to watch his TV programme and, inevitably, the sound is set too high so I’m forced to put my headphones in just to drown the tinny sounds emerging from his brain ( reason number two for the death penalty).

Finally, our train entered the twilight zone of Wiltshire, the place where 2G is a fantasy and TMNTM cedes defeat with technology and decides he is going to have a sleep instead. So, he tries to lean back but has anyone ever managed to sleep lying on their back with a backpack still on? Undaunted, he pulls the little table down and puts his head on his folded arms, fidgeting left to right and walloping me with his backpack approximately every ninety seconds.

It is fair to say I am looking forward to the train’s arrival in Bristol greatly as, I cannot understate this, TMNTM is pissing me off massively, He’s in the top three of all time worst fellow passengers ever ( I still think the lady picking her feet retains top position followed by Wolverhampton death metal lady) and I’m positively willing him evil.

I’m delighted to see we’ve arrived at Bath. Ten minutes to go. TMNTM cranes his neck to look out of the window. Puzzled, he turns to me and asks ‘what time does this train get to Worcester Shrub Hill?’

I open the champagne.

The amazing expanding waistline…

I’ve still not worked this one out and neither has Matt, who I was travelling with.

So, I’m ‘enjoying’ a Ukraine Airlines B737, wedged into the middle of three seats between Matt (who sat nicely) and a wriggling young man who seemed unable to sit still for more than two minutes. UIA are a bit low on frills so once I was in my seat, I wasn’t moving anywhere and that’s simply because I couldn’t. What that did mean, as with any bargain bucket airline, is that I kept my seat belt on, even though Captain Yuri had switched the light off.

Finally, though, wriggling man succumbed to the urge visit the toilet and I had to uncoil my legs, remove the seat belt and contort myself into the shape of a human to stand in the aisle and awaiting my fellow passenger’s return.

Eventually my neighbour returned and I folded my legs back up and slithered into my seat. Conscious that we were only a few hundred miles from Kiev, I decided to put my seatbelt back on so fumbled for the male and female parts and pulled them together. Except I couldn’t. There was a gap of at least six inches. So, I assumed that somehow one side had recoiled so wrestled with my wedged frame to try and dig the errant belt out, but no. By now both Matt and wriggling man were getting involved, assuming that we had got our belts crossed over, playing a game of ‘that’s your belt’ until we realised that no, the stumpy belt was indeed mine.

Conscious that we’d started our descent I tugged and tugged to get the two parts together. Did I call the steward and explain that my waist line had expanded by six inches during the flight? Did I pretend it was secured? Did I pull it tight and hope that my circulation survived long enough in my lower body?

To much much hilarity, I decided that the only option was a huge deep breath, pull the buckle in tight and hope. Luckily I had as Captain Yuri thumped the plane on the ground and bounced it down the runway. My legs were slowly turning blue and beyond as we turned towards the terminal and I felt confident enough to the remove the buckle from the depths of my small intestine.

For the record I hadn’t gained that much weight (some may beg to differ) but none of us could work out why the belt had so dramatically shortened…

73 people are quiet, but 2 can’t manage it….

Isn’t it amazing? 73 people in the Quiet Carriage managed to stay blissfully peaceful (though one man did have a particularly crunchy packet of Kettle Chips for breakfast) yet these two, sat under the word ‘Quiet’, failed miserably to keep schtum.

I’m not entirely sure where they boarded but judging by their appearances, it’s a pretty safe bet it was Bath. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t last ten minutes on the tough streets of Chippenham with such resplendent facial furniture. So, let’s assume they are Bathstards. They sounded like it too, talking as if they had mouths full of marbles and laughing like a horse refusing the first fence at Aintree.

Anyway, despite my best death-stare, the tuts of fellow passengers and hatred that only a full Quiet Coach can generate, they decided to talk all the way to London. Sometime in a hushed tone, sometimes in that whisper that actually louder than a child crying, sometimes just plain braying. But always at that frequency that, no matter, what music I listened to, their haw-hawing and guffaws would penetrate the depths of my cranium. Past David Gedge, past Stuart Staples, past Nick Cave and even past Lemmy.

They deserve to be shamed. Such behaviour would never be tolerated on the 0830, guess this is one of the perils of travelling super-duper-monster-off-peak. There are rules to be followed.

I’m now going to spend the afternoon at The Oval watching the rain and pretending to be a Bangladeshi (which I’ll fail dismally at, but wouldn’t want anyone to think I was an Aussie.), so imagine I’ll be similarly grumpy on the return.

Trumpet Gob, the sequel

I don’t generally believe in actually naming and shaming on these pages, to be pictured for the whole ‘net to see (well, the  bit that reads my warblings) just because you’d eaten your crisps rather loudly or decided to feast on pasty perfumed with the body odour of a hod carrier on a hot August day is, even to me, a little harsh.

But this guy, whoever he is, deserves it. I rather hope someone knows him.

Indeed, I’ve now walked the half mile home from the rather lovely Indian restaurant I dined in and have had to shut the windows as I can still hear him. The lovely Trumpet Gob of Frome (see previous post) has nothing on Tannoy Gob of Whiteladies Road. The consumption of lager is a wonderful thing for the young male and frees oneself of any inhibition or self-awareness. This allows you to sit at a table with your three mates and converse at a level equivalent to someone celebrating their team scoring an injury time forty-yard volley into the top comer in the European Cup Final after being four down at half-time.

This man has just blighted the evening of everyone in the restaurant. We were sat three tables away and I could barely hear my friend sat opposite talk. In fact, I’m pretty certain people in neighbouring bars were moving on because of the noise and small children in the locality were coming downstairs as they couldn’t sleep. I’m sure the earthquake centre in San Bernadino was probably registering the odd quiver in BS8 and causing puzzlement. Aircraft at 35.000 feet above reported turbulence and Bristol Airport was shut for several hours. Surgery at the local hospitals was suspended due to the vibration caused. And so on.

So, if you know him, please ask him nicely to never, ever sit in coach A….

76 seats full of annoyance…

Actually it’s 75 as I’m sat listening to some Sonic Youth (thanks to Brian for the ear-worm) and I’m clearly not annoying myself,  though in reality that happens surprisingly often.

So, I’ve had an absolutely fantastic 48 hours. Our new office is coming along nicely and the view has been fantastic in this lovely spring weather. Why, I even got to see an Asian Hornet at close quarters but that maybe not such a good thing? Can they kill?

After work drinks with Miss Ross by the canal but I missed the 2000 train and ended up on the 2015. Now, to the uninitiated, both go to Bristol but there’s a key difference; the 2000 goes to Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads. Once it has passed Didcot (recently voted Britain’s happiest Wimpey estate) and Swindon (rapidly returning to the fourth division), the train basically becomes a quasi-Pullman. Red carpets await the good people of Barth Spar as they arrive from their tough days at Harrods. Meanwhile, the 2015 goes to Wales.

Now, some of my best friends are Welsh and I really enjoy occasionally crossing the Dyke. But, the literal translation of ‘quiet coach’, as observed in previous posts, is ’cause as much noise as you can coach’. This evening I’ve opted for seat A73, the HST accommodation eq‭‭uivalent of the safe room. Apart from the toilets, it’s the only seat where one can be guaranteed privacy. Not only is it a single seat, it’s at the very front of the train so only the guard passes infrequently by. It being the Easter holiday there isn’t even the commuter-conga performing a u-turn as they reach the van. 

Anyway tonight, yes, a Wales bound service and school holidays… so we have a family of mother with small screechy children (what is possibly quiet about that?) eating hot (and smelly) spaghetti bologense whilst doing the whole here-comes-the-train-into-the-tunnel thing (really, not coach A behaviour). There’s the man across from me with not one, but two mobiles that he cannot manage to put on silent and, worse, he keeps answering the calls to tell people he can’t talk as he’s in the quiet coach. Even worse, he has the annoying clicky keyboard on both phones and busily texts the people he couldn’t talk to as he’s in the quiet coach.

Seat A67 has a man eating some stinky noodles.

Someone else has been to Burger King.

There are various talkers too.

Even the rear power car has given up the ghost so we’re running late.

But it’s been a good week. The Saints have just equalised against Palace and Death Valley ’69 screams in my ears.

I’m not as grumpy as I make out really.

You know the sort….

It’s a really, horrible wet day here. Half the morning was spent in the GP’s waiting room (apparently the GP is running only eight minutes late, which means I must have arrived very early), my work is backing up and I have a soaking left foot after I stood on one of those special paving slabs designed to disguise a giant puddle and send a jet of water up the leg of the next person unfortunate to lump their size eleven on it.

My train to London eventually becomes the 1300, which is something ordinarily I would look forward.to; light loading, guaranteed double seat, the chance to actually have a relaxing lunch and a nice mid-afternoon arrival in the office. The WiFi normally works too.Except I’m grumpy.

Maybe my brain is acutely trained but I just sense when someone is going to be a pain.

Platforms 13 and 15 at Temple Meads are the London platforms, accessed by the subway and the traveller is treated usually to the resplendent sight of two examples our finest 1970s technology, the High Speed Train sat, one at each platform. The one on the left, clearly marked the 1300 to Paddington, on the right the 1330 departure.

Today’s subject is what I could refer to  Clifton or Bath types, a Lady in her mid-50s and her son in his 20’s, hee-hawing too loudly at each other and walking so far abreast as to block the entire staircase. At the summit, oblivious, faced with a choice of two identical trains, they come to an abrupt halt. Flummoxed and unable to read the very clear signage, they decide that just standing and blocking the staircase is the way forward. Luckily, legendary Temple Meads staff member, Wayne, spots the blockage and explains that the train on the left departs at 1300, the one on the right, at 1330. To which Mother responds “But which one gets there first?’..  (though, based on the last couple of years on this line, it’s a potentially fair question).

Further confusion ensues when, confronted with a near-empty train, they are informed by the very helpful Guard that coaches C and D are the wrong way round. So, if you’re reservation says it’s in Coach C, you’ll actually find it in Coach D and vice versa. Well, he might as well as asked them to kindly explain the difference between nuclear fission and fusion before they can board whilst waving a light sabre. It’s all over for them. Having managed to reach the train, now they have to perform a small calculus to find their seat.

They do what to them is the obvious thing. They sit three seats in front of me in Coach A. And resume the hee-hawing.

I consider my options; music or do they both get issued a straight red? Well the decision is taken from me by a lovely lady who is down the coach quicker than a Brexiteer escaping a logical question. And off they go. I almost feel sorry for them. They now have to choose two seats out of the three hundred free on the train and I just know it will ruin their journey.

I’m back on the 0830 next time.

 

I woke up feeling right ornery….

..I guess that’s the joy of hotels.

I have to say that I rather like this one for it’s simplicity and the beds really are that bit more comfortable than other hotel chains so I really do sleep well.

The real gloom lands at breakfast and the, quite frankly, awful lady that always appears to be on duty. She has a single topic of conversation, the roadworks on the local A road and the only time I’ve ever seen her truly happy was the morning there’d been a big car crash. Oh goodness! How they managed to get the ambulance around the bollards! Goodness! The fire engine got delayed too!

This morning I arrived to hear her advising a couple on the best way to get to wherever they were heading avoiding the roadworks, why they should avoid the roadworks, how long they’ve been there and then, inevitably the big crash. I must point out that there are crashes most morning, why there was one on Tuesday which she joyously told me as I sat down for breakfast. Poor lady, I could see her abject disappointment when I told her I’d arrived on foot and would be departing on foot. Her in-built real-time Google Maps function returned to sleep mode and she reluctantly took my food order as if I was no longer of any interest.

The restaurant at the hotel is one of those templated instant character affairs that allow you to forget where you are for a moment as they all look so goddam awful. This one is run rigorously and the reluctant breakfast diners are herded to one of the ordered tables in the specially cordoned off breakfast space.  My friend is on duty this ever and clearly having a bad morning. The couple who arrive subsequent to me are given the choice of tables at which to sit, almost inevitably they decide on the one table that hasn’t been laid up (I say laid up, it’s missing a pair of knives, forks and napkins) and, for this, they get the death stare. And the sigh. The sigh is awesome. I haven’t heard this before. It’s the sound a 500 year old oak would make as it fell in a storm. The noise the asteroid made shortly before the dinosaurs were wiped out. The whoosh of a jet flying by at low level.

Impervious to her distaste, my fellow diners ask if my friend could get them some brown sauce, to which she turned on her heels and exclaimed to anyone listening  ‘what am I, some kind of take-out service?’ before slamming the manky bottle on their table. From there, their every request was met with a drain-emptying sigh and a barely-under-her-breath snipe at the unfortunate diners.‘What am I, your slave?’ Basil Fawlty is alive and well, I take great comfort in this.

If only they’d asked about the local traffic.

Needless to say, I will be back next week.

 

Schrödinger’s CAT

Funny where you end up isn’t it? Ever experienced one of those ‘WTF?’ moments where you end up in a very odd place and a strange time of the day? A frosty Carmarthen at the crack of dawn is one of those places, as is Edinburgh at 6am, especially when one realises that the train I’ve come to catch has been cancelled.

It’s a been at interesting weekend, the quiet coach has been an absolute oasis of calm amongst the drinking masses of Welsh rugby fans. And goodness, what drinking! The train arrived in Edinburgh awash with the carnage wreaked by hundreds of Oliver Reed wannabes yet no damage was caused if you ignore the high tide of Strongbow slopping around coach K. Sacks of empty cans and bottles line the corridors and the staff emerge, blinking, from behind their sandbags in the buffet car. The Transport Police meet the train and are mobbed by middle-aged orange ladies in dragon onesies wanting selfies.

Edinburgh is braced for the red onslaught but the only damage is empty barrels and the tide recedes after the match as the masses leave the City Centre for their more respectably priced Premier Inns. The hordes of French fans wander the streets looking a little puzzled as Dublin proves nothing like they expected it to be and the City won’t take their Euros.

By Monday morning what passes for normality starts to return; the lady on the platform with the sparkly shoes and pooch on the a long extendable lead, the commuter snoring soundly asleep under his bobble hat and the lady cramming as much yoghurt into her mouth as she can.

Anyway, I got up early to catch my train, expecting a rather sleek little CAT, and it didn’t show. Just simply cancelled. A no-show. So, I wondered, was it not there because I was? Would it have been there if I wasn’t? These are important questions which need answering….

When in Frome, do as the Fromans do…

Blimey, just have to share this treat.

Now, I have absolutely no intention of getting into the murky world of restaurant reviews but this evening cannot go without comment. Anyone that knows me or has followed these esteemed pages will know of my fear of the countryside and in particular of country folk. All that tweed, red faces and wellies. Terrifying stuff. So, having survived my eldest daughter’s parents evening this week in deepest Dorset (interestingly, the children and parents were 100% white which I found a little uncomfortable, though I guess there isn’t a ‘red’ box under ethnicity on the census, though really there should be), I found myself with a couple of hours to kill in Frome.

Frome is an interesting place; it clearly has money and the restaurants there reflect it’s ‘Little London’ reputation, a heady mix of Range Rovers, faux-Glastonbury types, investment bankers turned potter and locals. Locals that still resent Wiltshire for it’s role in the Civil War. There are, however,  worse places to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday night (generally the neighbouring Wiltshire towns, for example) so the rather lovely young lady on my arm suggested an Italian restaurant by the name of Castellos, so I happily took her advice.

And what a fine choice it was. Excellent food, excellent service and a generally splendidly cosmopolitan atmosphere that just could not have existed in rural Somerset twenty years ago.

But.

You can’t always deal with the locals.

Let’s talk about Trumpet-gob.

Castellos is a high ceilinged and fairly cavernous place which really works when full, creating an excited hum of happy eaters. Except when you have Trumpet-gob in the house. Trumpet-gob (let’s call her ‘TG’) is the sort of person who’s voice could fill the grand canyon with her whispered conversation and tonight she’s dining with her partner and child. She’s also be-friended the family with a child at the next table and another young family sat at a table in a different restaurant in the adjoining county. Everyone is going to hear about TG’s life. I can honestly say that I have never heard anyone talk so loudly and laugh the most witches-cackle of a laugh. I would imagine intimate foreplay with Brian Blessed as the Bishop of Bath and Wells to be a more intimate experience. People are turning and staring at TG. Mouths are open in awe. Pasta is being shoved in ears to drown the noise. TG likes talking to small children in that awful coochy-coochy kind of way whilst giving the poor monster tinnitus for the rest of it’s life. The lawyers of Frome will be busy filing suits on Monday for industrial scale damages to their hearing. I  have never heard anyone talk so loudly.

She wouldn’t have lasted a minute in Coach A but tonight the caped-Quiet-coach-crusader is helpless (her partner is the size of a scrum).

Eventually she leaves. Was it just me I wondered? But no, the remaining diners all turn to each other and give knowing, relieved smiles to each other. And remove the pasta from their ears.

I head back to the City, and peace.